SpokenWeb: Curating Literary Sound in a Digital Environment

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Michael O'Driscoll

    University of Alberta

  2. 2. Sean Luyk

    University of Alberta

  3. 3. Ariel Kroon

    University of Alberta

  4. 4. Zachary Morrison

    University of Alberta

  5. 5. Tejas Ambarani

    University of Alberta

  6. 6. Chelsea Miya

    University of Alberta

Work text
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1. The SpokenWeb Project: A Brief Overview:
Michael O’Driscoll, Professor, Department of English and Film Studies, UAlberta
This panel proposes to draw from the experience of the SpokenWeb Project team at the University of Alberta, an institutional partner in an exciting multidisciplinary research consortium now in the fourth year of seven-year SSHRC Partnership Grant. The project seeks to establish a networked archive of digital, literary audio drawn from the institutional and community collections managed by partner universities and academic libraries across Canada. The collections comprise thousands of analogue recordings (primarily reel to reel and cassette tapes) dating from the 1960s to the 1990s that, in an aggregated, searchable digital form, constitute a valuable cultural, research, and learning resource. In the vast majority of cases, these audio objects have rested unheard and uncatalogued in dusty corners and are only now meeting their future audience imagined into existence some half a century ago.
Integral to the project is the development of protocols not only for preservation and access that will encourage research and pedagogical innovations in this developing field at the intersection of the digital humanities, library science, literary analysis, and sound studies, but also the establishment of fundamental principles and practices for collections processing, metadata schemes, system interoperability, data analytics, and other technical matters necessary to the success of this innovative collaboration. SpokenWeb is also developing best practices in a multidisciplinary environment, ensuring high quality training and experiential learning for new scholars, and making inroads in community partnership development.
The University of Alberta SpokenWeb team is at a crucial juncture in the project’s lifecycle: we are about to move from a focus on collection development to a focus on public access and community engagement. This diverse panel will speak from a range of disciplinary perspectives, and draws on both emerging and established scholars on the UAlberta SpokenWeb team. Central to our presentations is the question of how the curation of durational digital objects that feature human speech across a variety of audiotextual literary genres presents pressing questions and unique challenges in a digital environment. In order to address a representative range of issues, panelists will speak to matters of digital media collection development, background archival research, timestamping and the production of structural metadata, rights management and curatorial ethics, and designing a public collections portal. After several years of project development, we’ve learned much, including the fact that is a lot more to learn.

2. Sound Studies and the Repository Environment
Sean Luyk, Digital Projects Librarian, University of Alberta Library, Co-Investigator, SpokenWeb Alberta
Institutional repositories provide foundational infrastructure for digital humanities projects, including long-term preservation, the provision of (open) access, resource description, and intellectual property rights management. Projects that work to curate audiovisual content, however, present significant challenges for these scholarly communications services, as they are typically not designed with the affordances of durational media in mind. Using the SpokenWeb Alberta project as a case study, this presentation will discuss the use of institutional audiovisual repositories for sound studies projects, and the considerations and challenges involved for libraries and archives supporting this work. Topics discussed will include intellectual property rights management, collections workflows, audiovisual resource description, and media preservation, as they relate to the delivery of scholarly communications services for digital humanities projects.

3. Anomalies and Archaeology in the Archive: researching radio episodes
Ariel Kroon, PhD, SpokenWeb Research Assistant, University of Alberta
This section will introduce the audience to the archival research necessary to locate, confirm, and assure quality control for the audio being digitized. I will walk through the archiving process with focus first on a larger collection (UAlberta Archival radio show recordings, aired on campus radio network CKUA), then narrowing in on a single episode recording and detail the type of archaeological work required in order to identify its content and speakers, as well as the challenges of recording metadata for a new audio type that the project had not yet encountered, including the creation of appropriate language for metadata use, the labelling of weird and interesting speech acts, musical interludes, and surprising audio events. I will also discuss the challenges of tracking down related materials from a thirty-year-old radio show held in the collection of a library that no longer exists, which served a program (Radio and Television) that was shut down years ago.

4. Introduction to Timestamping: Methods, Research Process and Ethics
Zach Morrison, PhD Student, SpokenWeb Research Assistant, University of Alberta
By timestamping literary audio performances, SpokenWeb researchers transform these lengthy and often unwieldy objects into navigable digital files amenable to future critical engagement. Timestamps index the speakers, literary works and topics that appear in each sonic artifact, allowing scholars to easily locate and listen to the spans of audio relevant to their research interests. They therefore improve the accessibility of SpokenWeb’s extensive archive and facilitate the activation of archival objects in the present. In this section, I will detail the various steps of the time-stamping process using a 1979 poetry performance by Fred Wah, a Canadian poet of mixed Swedish, Irish-Scots and Chinese heritage, as a case study. Drawing upon Wah’s performance, I will discuss not only the methods and types of research that are necessary to appropriately label literary audio events, but also the difficulties encountered when attempting to describe spans of audio that do not neatly fit into the syntax of SpokenWeb’s style guide. Crucial to this discussion will be the ethics of timestamping, as I will attend to the omissions effected by the timestamp itself, the small laughters, loaded pauses, and other sonic excrescences that exceed its limited descriptive space, and the potential for capturing these minor events as SpokenWeb’s practices continue to evolve.

5. Audio Rights Management and Ethical Curation
Michael O’Driscoll, Member, SpokenWeb Governing Board; Professor, Department of English and Film Studies, UAlberta
The SpokenWeb Project is committed to the development and dissemination of digital audio objects drawn from analogue collections of literary performance located at institutions across Canada. In almost all cases, these recordings have never been publicly available, and their migration to an, ideally, open digital environment carries an extraordinary legal and ethical weight. The Project’s cross-institutional Rights Management Task Force (of which I am a member) is responsible for advising and supporting community and institutional partners in developing relationships, practices, and mechanisms that ensure open access to recordings that respect Canadian copyright law, rights holders, and performers. The legalities of rights management in the case of audiotextual performance are murky at best, and while the law seems to favour the recordist over the content creator, the ethical implications of curating such archived events stress a nonetheless heightened responsibility. The SpokenWeb collection includes everything from public events such as literary readings, classroom lectures, and panel presentations to more private events such as informal interviews, casual coffee-table recordings, and the sometimes revealing and even heated discussions that constitute the paratextual elements of exchanges captured on tape. Given the age of the recordings, the sometimes vulnerable identities of the speakers, and the ongoing interests of the (often still living) creative artists involved, curating these collections requires a delicate balance between the prerogatives of rights management and the responsibilities of ethical curation that devolves, often, to the specificity of the collections and audio objects under our stewardship.

6. Lightening the Load: Minimalist Web Design and Development for Scholars
Chelsea Miya, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, SpokenWeb, University of Alberta
Tejas Ambarani, MDES Student, SpokenWeb Research Assistant, University of Alberta
Knowledge dissemination, as a key component of scholarly work, increasingly occurs through online channels. When showcasing your research on the web, it is tempting to rely on tools like WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace, which promise glossy, ready-made builds at your fingertips. However, as Alex Gil points out, these user-friendly apps have “disconnected” researchers from the “material conditions of their own knowledge production” (Gil). Not only that, these tools are often server-heavy, stacking multiple programs on top of one another, and as such need to be continually updated. Drawing on the minimalist computing philosophy of Gil, Jentery Sayers, and others, we will use SpokenWeb UAlberta as a test-case for how to go “back to the basics” (Sayers) and build a website from scratch using basic programming languages. In our paper, we will explain how to implement minimal computing principles in both the front and back-end of development, creating a website that is self-sufficient, low-maintenance, and accessible. In addition to the underlying architecture, we will also describe how to approach the look and feel of a website with restraint, using less intrusive elements like flat colours and vector-based illustrations to cut out “excess” and foreground “just content” (Sayers). We will finally explain how to be more selective about features without compromising user experience and walk-through the benefits of using personas and scenarios to guide the design process.

Sayers, Jentery.
Minimal Definitions. https://jntry.work/mindefinitions/.

Gil, Alex. “The User, the Learner and the Machines We Make.” GO: DH. http://go-dh.github.io/mincomp/thoughts/2015/05/21/user-vs-learner/

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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2022
"Responding to Asian Diversity"

Tokyo, Japan

July 25, 2022 - July 29, 2022

361 works by 945 authors indexed

Held in Tokyo and remote (hybrid) on account of COVID-19

Conference website: https://dh2022.adho.org/

Contributors: Scott B. Weingart, James Cummings

Series: ADHO (16)

Organizers: ADHO